Dan PearsonBy:  J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
Photo Credit: Rob Herbert

Osceola County’s most intense and competitive rivalry resumes this week when the Harmony Longhorns travel to Tom Gannarelli Field on Friday to meet the St. Cloud Bulldogs in the 17th edition of the Solider City Classic.

While Harmony will be heavy favorites against St. Cloud, both head coaches are saying the records mean little when these two teams get together. “These kids have been playing with and against each other since their youth sports days,” Harmony Head Coach Don Simon said. “There will be no need to make any big motivational speeches this week. This is the one game each year that both sides point to.”

“St. Cloud and Osceola may have played close to 100 times, so on paper outsiders view that as the county’s biggest rivalry,” Bulldog head coach Bryan Smart said. “But for the last couple of decades that series has been so one-sided it’s hard even calling it a rivalry. St. Cloud – Harmony is simply different. When Harmony opened, half their first student body was zoned for St. Cloud so there was a lot of competition and bragging rights from the start. This series has been intense and close and it is really what high school football rivalries are supposed to be all about.”

The series is currently tied at 8-8. No team has won more than four in a row and the total points scored in the series has also been close, with Harmony leading 370-337. Although St. Cloud has won the last two and four of the last six, the two teams have been headed in opposite directions for most of the current season.

Counting an impressive 52-12 win over East River last week, the Longhorns (5-3) still have playoff hopes this season. They are led by running back Tyler Emans, who rushed for 191 yards and five touchdowns last week and now had 1323 yards rushing and 27 total touchdowns in just eight games this season. Harmony also has a terrific counter punch in Cooper Richards, who had 91 yards on just 10 carries last season.

“He’s the type of player that can certainly give any defense nightmares,” Smart said of Emans. “He went for about 150 and broke a long one against us last year and then I realized he was only a sophomore and we had to play him too more times. It’s not real hard to figure out, we have to find a way to at least slow him down a little or it could be a long night.”

In addition to containing Emans, St. Cloud must find some offense against the Longhorns. The Bulldogs graduated all 11 offensive starters from last year, lost projected star running back Hayden Taylor for the year with a knee injury last spring, had to deal with weather and Covid issues for the first six weeks of this season, and then had several players suspended for three games after a Week 2 altercation with Sebastian River.
The end result is the Bulldogs have scored less than six points a game this season. Although its defense has been pretty good this year, they have tended to wear down in the second half due to the offense’s inability to move the ball.

Still it’s the type of game where anything can happen. “I know our players will be ready to go. Whether it will be enough remains to be seen, but I know our kids are always get excited about the Classic.”

A look at other games around the county this week:

CELEBRATION (5-3, 1-3) at OSCEOLA (6-2, 3-1)
The Storm will be meeting an angry Osceola team, after the Kowboys lost their first district game in more than a decade — dropping a 35-21 road decision to West Orange last Friday. Although few people will be picking Celebration this week, Storm head coach Rich Pringle continues to do a fantastic job in transforming the trajectory of Celebration’s football fortunes. With a 49-7 win over Windermere last week, Celebration has been guaranteed just its second non-losing season in the school’s 18-year history. The Storm also feature one the area’s premiere running backs in Oneil Senatus, who rushed for 208 yards on just 15 carries against Windermere. For eight games, his totals now stand at 1346 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. Although West Orange clinched the Class 8A, District 9 championship with the win against Osceola, the Kowboys still remain in position to capture an “at-large” spot in the playoffs. Big plays proved to be the downfall for the Kowboys, as they gave up touchdown passes of 43, 41, and 87 yards and also allowed a 90-yard kickoff return. “We need to put that loss behind us,” Osceola Head Coach Eric Pinellas said. “We got beat badly late last year at Vero Beach and came back to make a deep run in the post-season. There’s no reason why we can’t do that again.”

MULBERRY (4-4) at LIBERTY (4-4) Non-District
Independent Liberty is putting together a solid season at 4-4 and will have a chance to clinch at least a .500 season when they host Mulberry (4-4) on Friday. The Chargers picked up their fourth win of the year last week with a 40-13 win over Discovery. David Bacote, subbing for injured quarterback Jeremiah Pierre-Louis, ran for three touchdowns and threw for another. WR/ TE Greg Vital and running back Kervalis Scott each had scores; while DB Nelly Tillis had an 85-yard interception return for touchdown.

AACA (1-7) at POINCIANA (0-8) Non-District
Poinciana (0-8) will be looking for its first win of the season when it hosts Akelynn’s Angels Christian Academy (1-7) out of Winter Haven on Friday night. The Eagles rough season continued last week with a 33-8 loss to Parrish Community (4-4). Jahmari Corbett accounted for the Eagles lone touchdown in the game with a scoring pass to DeShawn Wimberly.

LAKE NONA (5-3, 3-1) at TOHOPEKALIGA (2-7, 1-3)
Located just a few miles apart, these two district foes have seen their programs go in opposite directions of late. Hit with injuries, Covid-19 protocols and a young roster, the Tigers fell to 2-7 on the season with a loss to Freedom (49-19) last Friday night. Toho’s offense has also struggled, as they have been limited to 48 points in their last seven games. Lake Nona (5-3) has won five of their last six, including a big 35-0 win over Boone last week.

LAKE WALES (6-2, 2-0) at GATEWAY (2-6, 0-3)
The Panthers will have their hands full this week when they welcome district leader Lake Wales to their home field for a 7 p.m. kick. Marlin Roberts’ team picked up their second win of the season last week, thrashing Lake Region, 48-19. Elijah Simmons had three interceptions, including two “pick sixes;” while quarterback Ed Dyer Jr. threw for one touchdown and ran for another.

Dan PearsonBy J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola

J. Daniel Pearson, a long-time resident of Osceola County, has joined Positively Osceola as a freelance contributor. His JD’s Monday Morning Musings column are a regular feature and he will be covering events for us throughout the year. Dan is a former Public Relations Specialist for Florida State University, Boardwalk and Baseball, the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, the Orlando Predators, and other professional sports teams and has been a freelance reporter to many newspapers in the state.